The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 17/Reasons Offered Against Examining Drugs








BEING called upon by several retailers and dispensers of drugs and medicines about town, to use our endeavours against the bill now depending for viewing, &c. In regard of our common interest, and in gratitude to the said retailers and dispensers of medicines, which we have always found to be very effectual, we presume to lay the following reasons before the publick against the said bill.

That the company of upholders are far from being averse to the giving of drugs and medicines in general, provided they be of such qualities as we require, and administered by such persons, in whom our company justly repose the greatest confidence: and provided they tend to the encouragement of trade, and the consumption of the woollen manufacture of this kingdom.

We beg leave to observe, that there has been no complaint from any of the nobility, gentry, and citizens whom we have attended. Our practice, which consists chiefly in outward applications, having been always so effectual, that none of our patients have been obliged to undergo a second operation, excepting one gentlewoman; who, after her first burial, having burdened her husband with a new brood of posthumous children, her second funeral was by us performed without any farther charges to the said husband of the deceased. And we humbly hope, that one single instance of this kind, a misfortune owing merely to the avarice of a sexton, in cutting off a ring, will not be imputed to any want of skill, or care, in our company.

We humbly conceive, that the power by this bill lodged in the censors of the college of physicians to restrain any of his majesty's subjects from dispensing, and well-disposed persons from taking, what medicines they please, is a manifest encroachment on the liberty and property of the subject.

As the company, exercising the trade and mystery of upholders, have an undisputed right in and upon the bodies of all and every the subjects of the kingdom; we conceive the passing of this bill, though not absolutely depriving them of their said right, might keep them out of possession by unreasonable delays, to the great detriment of our company, and their numerous families.

We hope it will be considered, that there are multitudes of necessitous heirs and penurious parents, persons in pinching circumstances with numerous families of children, wives that have lived long, many robust aged women with great jointures, elder brothers with bad understandings, single heirs of great estates, whereby the collateral line are for ever excluded, reversionary patents, and reversionary promises of preferments, leases upon single lives, and play-debts upon joint lives, and that the persons so aggrieved have no hope of being speedily relieved any other way, than by the dispensing of drugs and medicines in the manner they now are: burying alive being judged repugnant to the known laws of this kingdom.

That there are many of the deceased, who, by certain mechanical motions and powers, are carried about town, who would have been put into our hands long before this time, by any other well-ordered government: by want of a due police in this particular, our company have been great sufferers.

That frequent funerals connibute to preserve the genealogies of families, and the honours conferred by the crown, which are no where so well illustrated as on this solemn occasion: to maintain necessitous clergy; to enable the clerks to appear in decent habits to officiate on Sundays; to feed the great retinue of sober and melancholy men, who appear at the said funerals, and who must starve without constant and regular employment. Moreover, we desire it may be remembered, that, by the passing of this bill, the nobillty and gentry will have their old coaches lie upon their hands, which are now employed by our company.

And we farther hope, that frequent funerals will not be discouraged, as it is by this bill proposed, it being the only method left of carrying some people to church.

We are afraid, that, by the hardships of this bill our company will be reduced to leave their business here, and practice at York and Bristol, where the free use of bad medicines will be still allowed.

It is therefore hoped, that no specious pretence whatsoever will be thought sufficient to introduce an arbitrary and unlimited power for people to live (in defiance of art) as long as they can by the course of nature, to the prejudice of our company and the decay of trade.

That as our company are likely to suffer, in some measure, by the power given to physicians to dissect the bodies of malefactors, we humbly hope, that the manufacture of cases for skeletons will be reserved solely to the coffin makers.

We likewise humbly presume, that the interest of the several trades and professions, which depend upon ours, may be regarded; such as that of herses, coaches, coffins, epitaphs, and bell-ropes, stonecutters, feathermen, and bell-ringers; and especially the manufacturers of crapes; and the makers of snuff; who use great quantities of old coffins, and who, considered in the consumption of their drugs, employ by far the greatest number of hands of any manufacture of the kingdom.

  1. In the year 1724, the physicians made application to parliament to prevent apothecaries dispensing medicines without the prescription of a physician: during which this tract was dispersed in the court of requests.